Monday, October 3, 2016

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Fairy tale retellings may be all the rage right now, but once upon a time - way back in the 80s (wink, wink) - editor Terry Windling conceived of and commissioned a series of retellings for Tor. Each installment in the series was penned by a different author, renowned and admired in the fantasy genre.

Earlier this year, Tor Teen rereleased one of those titles: Jane Yolen's Briar Rose.

Becca grew up with her grandmother's stories but one always stood out amongst the rest - that of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty. The tale isn't quite like that of movie fame. In fact, it seems to have twists to it that are unique to Gemma herself. But just how unique isn't clear until after her death. 

See, in her final moments Gemma insists that she is Briar Rose - a princess who lived in a castle and was the only one to survive a terrible sleeping curse. In the moments before her death, she makes Becca promise she will find the castle and the legacy that is now hers. And it's a promise Becca intends to keep, even when it takes her back to one of the worst atrocities in all of history. 

The new edition includes a foreword by Windling herself and an introduction by Yolen, both of which make it clear exactly how this twist on the classic was conceived. And it's an interesting twist indeed - here, Sleeping Beauty is set not in medieval times but in Poland, during WWII. The castle is real - a schloss that Yolen had read about and fortuitously came across mention of again in the aftermath of Windling's approach about a book. An extermination camp called Chelmno, that apparently only four people survived.

This version of Briar Rose is an awful tale because of the truth in it. But it's also a wonderful retelling, too. And one that makes complete and utter sense in it's conception and execution.

Becca's journey into her own family's history illustrates just how complex a family history can be. They know little about her grandmother's history except when she came to the United States. Of course they're all certain that her insistence she's a real Sleeping Beauty is just a figment of an aging mind. And yet...

Yolen does a wonderful job with a subject that is both emotionally difficult and sensitive. Definitely recommended!!!

Rating: 5/5

It's my understanding that quite a few of the series titles have been rereleased in years since, though sadly at least one appears to be out of print. Here's the full list if you're interested in tracking them down:

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steven Brust
The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint
White as Snow by Tanith Lee
Fitcher's Brides by Gregory Frost

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